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Indoor exposure to harmful pollutants can occur both in public and private environments, such as at home, at school, at work, or on transportation services.

Some of these pollutants occur from dirty air outside, but most are actually released from within a structure itself, such as when turning on the heating in a building, burning fuel to cook, or when using solutions to clean. Sometimes, construction materials and furniture can emit pollutants as well, and lack of ventilation only exacerbates the problem.

Since indoor air could contain all kinds of pollutants at once, it’s hard to tell what risks are associated with the air in a given building. Additionally, there is no standard criteria for “typical indoor air.” Nonetheless, this article serves as a guide to optimizing your home for the best possible quality of indoor air (IAQ).


Effects of IAQ

Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the quality of the air inside of, and around, structures and buildings. Understanding the many different possible pollutants and their possible effects are essential to helping you reduce your risk of health problems.

High pollutant levels can result in side effects shortly after exposure, and some only show up years later.

Immediate Side Effects

Certain pollutants cause immediate health effects after one or repeated exposures. In most cases, the effects are treatable and last only a short period of time. These side effects, which include fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and irritation of the eyes, ears, nose, and throat, will often go away simply by removing whatever is causing the pollution in the air. Continued exposure to the pollutants can result in additional symptoms like aggravated asthma.

The odds of reacting to pollutants in the air depends mostly on any pre-existing medical conditions, age, and several other factors. Individual sensitivity is one such factor; for example, those who have been regularly exposed to biological or chemical pollutants in high concentration become sensitized to the scents.

There are some side effects that seem just like symptoms that manifest from colds and other viral diseases, which can further complicate determining the source of the symptoms. This is why it’s important to know exactly when and where your symptoms manifest. If they go away after leaving the property, then chances are you need to look in the building for the contaminant.


Long-Term Side Effects

As we mentioned before, some health effects can appear only years after repeated exposure to high levels of pollutants. For example, there is heart disease, respiratory disease, and cancer, all of which can severely impact quality of life or even be fatal. Therefore, it’s prudent to reduce the amount of harmful pollutants in your life.


Factors in Measuring Quality of Air: Fast Facts

  • It’s common knowledge that the chemicals founds in household products will irritate your throat, eyes, and nose. However, the true extent of the danger of long-term exposure of these chemicals is unknown.
  • Radon occurs naturally all over the country. In high concentrations, it can enter the building and lead to lung cancer.
  • Suspended particles in the air can negatively impact the respiratory system.
  • Microbes from viruses and molds can contribute to allergies and asthma.
  • Dust mites, cockroaches, and other pests are all common sources of allergens.
  • Insufficient ventilation exacerbates all of these effects, which can lead to further problems with your health and at work.
  • Too-low humidity irritates the eyes, dries out the nose and skin. Too-high humidity allows dust mites and molds to grow.


Indoor Pollutants: When is it Dirty Air?

Let’s be honest: What we breathe in day in and day out leaves a lot to be desired. Every day, there are toxic petrol fumes and carbon dioxide emissions out in the world. As scary as that all sounds, indoor air can actually be worse to breathe in than the air outside, after accounting for harmful chemicals in the air. This is all the more reason to ensure that your home’s IAQ is the best it possibly can be.

All air pollution is bad for your health. These are some of the more common causes of high indoor pollutant levels:

  • Asbestos
  • Biological pollutants
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead
  • Pesticides
  • Radon
  • Indoor particulate matter
  • Secondhand smoke



A mineral fiber found in rock and soil, asbestos has been used as a fire-retardant and for insulation in several building materials thanks to its heat resistance and fiber strength. You’ll find the material in:

  • Paper products
  • Ceiling and floor tiles
  • Automobile clutch
  • Roofing shingles
  • Packaging
  • Automobile brake
  • Gaskets
  • Coatings

If materials containing asbestos become cut open or otherwise disturb, the fibers release into the air and endanger those breathing that air.


Biological pollutants

Biological pollutants refers to things like cat saliva, viruses, bacteria, mites, cockroaches, pollen, and house dust, among other things. More sources exist than you can try and examine, but controlling the humidity at home can hinder the growth of some of these contaminants. In most cases, it is recommended to have a humidity of anywhere between 30 and 50 percent; water-damaged materials, standing water, and similarly wet surfaces make the perfect breeding grounds for insects, bacteria, mildew, and mold.

Source of biological pollutants:

  • pollens
  • mold
  • household pets
  • viruses and bacteria
  • droppings and body parts from pests and insects like cockroaches and rodents

As the name suggests, biological contaminants are produced by living beings. If they’re in your house, you’ll usually find them near areas that provide water and food, like:

  • bedding, draperies, carpet, and other areas where dust accumulates
  • wet or damp areas, such as unvented bathrooms or humidifiers


Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that doesn’t taste like anything, which makes it impossible to tell when you’re breathing it in–which is very bad news, because inhaling it is toxic. Common sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Leaking chimneys and furnaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Leaking flue
  • Improperly sized or clogged flue
  • Worn out combustion devices
  • Unvented gas space heaters and kerosene
  • Generators and similar gas-powered equipment
  • Back-drafting from furnaces, wood stoves, gas water heaters, and fireplaces

The degree of CO exposure side effects manifest differently from person to person depending on their age, overall health, and how long they were exposed.

Possible health effects at low concentration:

  • Chest pain in those who have heart disease
  • Fatigue in the healthy

Possible health effects at moderate concentrations:

  • Impaired vision
  • Angina
  • Reduced brain function


Possible health effects at high concentrations:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Impaired coordination and vision
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Death



It’s no secret that lead is harmful to the environment, especially for children whose developing bodies are more vulnerable to absorbing lead compared to adults. Young children are also more likely to become exposed to the negative effects of lead because they’re more likely to put dirty hands in their mouths. Before we learned how bad lead is to use, we used it everywhere: gasoline, paint, water pipes, and similar types of products.

Perhaps the most common source in America today is old lead paint. Harmful exposure happens when someone improperly tries to remove this paint, such as by sanding or dry scraping.


Pesticides are chemicals commonly used to kill pests, such as insects, rodents, bacteria, and fungi. Because of what they do, pesticides are inherently toxic.

A recent survey shows that 75 percent of American households use pesticide products, which are usually in the form of insecticides and disinfectants. It seems the amount of pesticides at home is even greater than that, considering sources include:

  • stored pesticide containers
  • contaminated dust or soil tracked in from outside
  • household surfaces that delay-release pesticides

Pesticides usually come in the form of:

  • Insecticides, to control insects
  • Fungicides, to control fungus
  • Termiticides, to control termites
  • Disinfectants, to control microbes
  • Rodenticides, to control rodents



Every year, thousands of American succumb to lung cancer. Aside from smoking and secondhand smoke, radon is the next leading cause of lung cancer in those who do not smoke. Although it is possible to treat lung cancer, its survival rate is among the lowest of all types of cancer; only 11 to 15 percent live more than five years after the diagnosis. However, there are many ways to reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, causing 160,000 American deaths from cancer every year, and radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Now combine a smoker with long-term exposure to radon–these folks are incredibly susceptible to developing lung cancer.


Indoor Particulate Matter

Indoor particulate matter (PM) is a mixture of liquid and/or solid particles that are suspended in the air. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns about particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, because they can be inhaled and affect the heart and lungs. All indoor environments have some degree of particulate matter; it is impossible to completely eradicate PM.


Secondhand Smoke

Another common pollutant, secondhand smoke refers to the smoke that people are exposed to when not directly smoking a cigarette, pipe, or cigar. Another term that you may have heard used for secondhand smoke is environmental tobacco smoke. Likewise, the exposure to such smoke may also be referred to as passive smoking or involuntary smoking. More than 7,000 substances can be found in secondhand smoke, and more than a handful of those substances have been proven to cause cancer in both humans and animals. To prevent this from accumulating in your house, it’s important to exclusively smoke outside and air out before coming back inside.

Improving IAQ

The information we have provided here is based on the current technical and scientific understanding of the issues we have outlined above. Following this advice will not guarantee you are completely protected from all kinds of health hazards related to IAQ, but it will get you far along the right track.

There are three initial lines of defense to improve your IAQ:

  • Source control
  • Improved ventilation
  • Air cleaners


Source Control

The best way to improve one’s IAQ is to get rid of what’s causing the pollution in the first place.

Asbestos and similar sources can be enclosed while others, such as gas stoves, can be adjusted or replaced to lessen the emissions. In most cases, controlling the source of the pollution is going to cost you less money in the long run compared to increasing the amount of ventilation in your home; that is because having more ventilation inevitably leads to higher energy usage, which leads to more expensive bills.


Improved Ventilation

Source control is usually sufficient to fix IAQ problems in a residential or commercial building. When it isn’t enough, then you can increase how much outdoor air circulates through the building interior by way of increased ventilation.

Most cooling and heating systems, including that using forced air, do not naturally bring in fresh air from outside. By opening attic fans, window fans, windows themselves, and doors, then you will increase the rate of ventilation coming in from the outdoors. Likewise, you can use kitchen fans or bathroom fans to exhaust contaminants to the outdoors.


Air Cleaners

Many kinds of air cleaners exist on the market, from the inexpensive models typically found at your local grocery store all the way up to expensive systems running throughout the entire house. These are not usually designed to get rid of gaseous pollutants, however; they are best for particle removal, and you’ll get what you pay for in this category.


Additional Methods

For years, hospitals and clinics have relied on UV lights to keep their air and medical surfaces disinfected and clean. They are not necessarily a cure-all for poor indoor air quality concerns, but studies show they are great at killing bacteria, viruses, fungus, mildew, and mold in HVAC ducts where the moist environment would otherwise breed these contaminants. This is especially a concern in North Carolina, where many people prefer to keep their doors shut during the humid, hot days of summer.

As we mentioned before, it’s best to keep your home’s humidity somewhere between 30 and 50 percent. Higher humidity makes an uncomfortable, unhealthy home that makes your air conditioner less effective. For this, we recommend a dehumidifier.

Family members suffering from asthma or allergies may experience worsened symptoms when the home is too humid, because a moist environment encourages both mildew and mold to grow in the home, and these are great at triggering symptoms. They’re so good at it, in fact, that even healthy people can fall ill. Again, a dehumidifier makes controlling these sources easier.

Need more specific professional advice? Be sure to contact us today for a consultation!